Through reading blogs and thinking about feminism in relation to motherhood, I realised something, and I’m almost ashamed that I didn’t notice it before. Since my daughter was 8 months old, so for over a year, we have been attending a seminar at the university together. It all started when I was strongly encouraged to come along by a fellow student. I actually felt like she was pestering me and like she didn’t understand that with a husband who worked 9-5 and no childcare I just would not be able to attend a seminar. She discussed things with the semi-official seminar leader, also a student, and he sent me a very kind email explaining that I would be very welcome to bring my daughter, and that everyone would be willing to cuddle her while I presented my work.
Since then we have been attending this two-hour seminar every other week during term time together. It takes a lot of organisation: precise nap-timing, lunch-timing, packing snacks, toys, books, nappies, wipes, practising my non-chalant ‘why yes of course I’m on campus with my baby’-face… and crossing my fingers that my daughter stays acceptably quiet during the seminar. When my daughter turned 18 months, she started going to nursery, but the seminar happens to be on a non-nursery day. As I have gotten to know the people better, I have relaxed slightly, and now I find them a lot less intimidating. Since we started going to the seminar, several people have finished their PhDs, so now there is only a very small group of us. They always comment on how well-behaved my daughter is, they talk to her, ask about her and are generally lovely. (And my daughter really enjoys going to ‘nooni’ [uni] with mummy.)
But their demographics are quite surprising: there’s the recently separated childless Dr Martins-wearing goth bloke in his 50s who supposedly has never cooked a meal in his life, the ex-schoolteacher childless lady in her 50s, and the childless carefree students in their 20s and 30s from multiple different countries; all extremely academically minded. So then I realised that what they did and continue to do is actually quite advanced and feminist. Although the seminar is organised and led by a student, we do serious work and discuss complicated theories. Not really a place in which you would expect to find a toddler, or expect anyone to explicitly invite a toddler. But without their generosity, I wouldn’t be able to go to the only seminar which is offered for students in my discipline, and before my daughter started nursery it was a lifeline – adult company, interesting discussion, hearing others’ comments on my work, learning more about my subject. Without it, I would have been a lot less motivated and a lot more lonely. I think I really have to keep going with my PhD so I can thank these generous and kind people in my acknowledgements.